CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Fights erupted and multiple people were injured when a car plowed through a crowd Saturday as white nationalists and counter-protesters violently clashed here — prompting Charlottesville police and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to declare a state of emergency.
Supporters gathered in Emancipation Park Saturday morning in anticipation of a noon rally held by “Unite the Right.” The aim of the rally was to protest the removal of a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The park was formerly known as Lee Park.
State police and members of the Virginia National Guard surrounded the park after McAuliffe declared a state of emergency and the city of Charlottesville declared the alt-right protest an unlawful assembly — effectively cancelling the demonstration before its planned start time.
The Charlottesville Police Department reported that, as of 12:30 p.m. ET, it had made a single arrest and emergency medical personnel had responded to eight injuries.
But those may not be the only injuries related to the event. A video made after 1 p.m. ET and posted to social media appeared to show a car plow into a group of counter-protesters as they walked through the streets of Charlottesville.
CPD asked that people avoid and clear the site of the three-vehicle accident —Fourth and Water streets — in downtown Charlottesville. They reported multiple injuries. NBC News confirmed that the car that struck the crowd was a silver Dodge Charger, which built speed over two blocks before hitting the counter-protesters.
After striking a number of people, the car appears to back up and flee the scene.
Assistant city editor of the Daily Progress Mark Newton told MSNBC that witnesses reported at least nine people were injured and that “bodies went flying.”
The CPD estimated between 2,000 and 6,000 people were expected to attend the “Unite the Right” rally, according to local paper The Daily Progress. The controversial event was seeking to unify the far-right wing and “affirm the right of Southerners and white people to organize for their interests,” according to its Facebook page.
McAuliffe said he declared a state of emergency to allow for a response to quell the violence.
“It is now clear that public safety cannot be safeguarded without additional powers, and that the mostly out-of-state protesters have come to Virginia to endanger our citizens and property,” McAuliffe said in a statement released shortly before noon. “I am disgusted by the hatred, bigotry and violence these protesters have brought to our state over the past 24 hours.”
White nationalists, as well as apparent neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, were met in opposition by clergy members and other groups, who stood in a line singing “This Little Light of Mine” to drown out the profanity and slurs.
“Love has already won. We have already won,” the counter-protesters responded early Saturday.
But as the violence intensified with shoving and punching, demonstrators covered their mouths after tear gas was apparently released into the crowd.
Two people were also treated for serious but non-life-threatening injuries near Emancipation Park, the city of Charlottesville tweeted, as tensions flared with back-and-forth shouting and physical posturing.
A large group of counter-protesters wore black shirts and masks and carried shields, yelling to the white nationalists: “We have replaced you. Strong, united, interracial crew.”
Once the violence had mostly come to an end, President Donald Trump denounced the clashes via a tweet that called for “ALL” to be united in their condemnation of hate.
The city and Albemarle County both issued a “declaration of local emergency” for the two jurisdictions to request additional resources.
McAuliffe said that his entire team would continue to monitor the situation and continue to coordinate with Virginia State Police, Virginia National Guard, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management as well as local and state officials.
“Local officials continue to closely monitor the situation,” Charlottesville police added on Facebook.
The University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville, cancelled all events and programming on the school’s campus.
The rally followed a night of torch-wielding white supremacists clashing with counter-protesters at the University of Virginia. Chants of “You will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!” were met with shouts of “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!”
Reuters and a number of local reports put the number of protester Friday in the hundreds. The Washington Post reported that the march lasted between 15 and 20 minutes.
At least one person was arrested Friday night and several others treated for minor injuries, according to The Daily Progress. Both sides reported being hit with pepper spray, the newspaper added.
Rep. Don Beyer, D.-Va., tweeted Saturday morning that “white supremacists chanting Nazi slogans aren’t Virginia or America. They are weak, ignorant, fearful people with citronella tiki torches.”
In videos posted to social media from Friday night, the white supremacists can be seen goading their opposition with shouts of “Jews will not replace us” and “white lives matter.”
The display drew condemnation from local and university officials.
“I am deeply saddened and disturbed by the hateful behavior displayed by torch-bearing protesters that marched on our grounds this evening,” University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan said in a statement. “I strongly condemn the unprovoked assault on members of our community, including university personnel who were attempting to maintain order.”
“The violence displayed on the grounds is intolerable and is entirely inconsistent with the university’s values,” Sullivan added.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer called the demonstration a “cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism and intolerance.”
He added: “Everyone has a right under the First Amendment to express their opinion peaceably, so here’s mine: Not only as the Mayor of Charlottesville, but as a UVA faculty member and alumnus, I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.”
The King Center, founded by civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow, Coretta Scott King, tweeted that “racism never left America.”